In December 2014, IBAC received a notification from Corrections Victoria containing allegations that corrections officers at Port Phillip Prison were trafficking illicit drugs into the prison, using illicit drugs, and maintaining links to organised crime entities.
In January 2015, IBAC commenced Operation Ettrick to investigate these allegations.
IBAC found no evidence that corrections officers were engaged in trafficking drugs into Port Phillip Prison.
However, IBAC's investigation did establish:
- at least two prison officers maintained associations with former prisoners, in contravention of prison policy and corrections standards
- one prison officer attempted to use their position to influence the transfer of a current prisoner. This was a favour to a former prisoner with whom the prison officer had inappropriately maintained contact.
In addition to the inappropriate associations, IBAC identified one prison officer who was involved in the production and trafficking of illicit drugs (though not into the prison) and two other prison officers using illicit drugs. Two of the prison officers had worked together in the same unit for an extended period of time, with one holding a leadership role.
IBAC found that the inappropriate associations maintained by experienced officers modelled poor practices for others and may have undermined professional standards in the unit more broadly. There was also a poor understanding of declarable associations and conflicts of interest across the unit. This may have limited the capacity of colleagues to confidently identify wrongdoing in the unit.
As a result of IBAC's investigation, three corrections officers were dismissed in December 2015.
Operation Ettrick identified a number of opportunities for the then Department of Justice and Regulation to strengthen its policies and practices in areas such as declarable association, training on professional boundaries and conflict of interest, risk reduction regarding relationships between staff and prisoners, drug testing of corrections officers and the promotion of consistent policy standards.
In January 2017 and August 2020, the Department of Justice and Community Safety (DJCS) wrote to IBAC outlining actions it had taken to address the corruption vulnerabilities identified in Operation Ettrick.
IBAC publishes responses to our investigations to inform the community about actions agencies advise they are taking, and to share learnings that may help other agencies improve their systems and practices to prevent corruption and misconduct.
The Department's response is as follows:
Development and implementation of a more detailed policy regarding declarable associations between staff and relevant people such as former prisoners, prisoners' families and other person with known criminal histories.
Corrections Victoria transitioned its existing 'Corrections Conduct and Ethics Policy' to a Commissioner's Requirement, which requires compliance by both public and private prisons. The current Commissioner’s Requirement incorporates the following relevant legislative and departmental policy obligations:
- Corrections Act 1986
- Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006
- Code of Conduct for Victorian Public Sector Employees (VPS Code of Conduct)
- Department of Justice and Community Safety (DJCS) Declarable Associations Guideline and Related Policy
- DJCS Security Screening Guidelines and Related Policy
- DJCS Gifts and Hospitality Policy
- DJCS Conflicts of Interest Policy
- DJCS Safety Speak Up Guideline.
Development and delivery of regular training to staff on the importance of professional boundaries and staff obligations in regard to declarable associations and conflicts of interest.
DJCS has a Conflicts of Interest Policy and Framework that includes training and standard declaration forms. The Risk and Integrity Culture team facilitates training and engagement on integrity matters across DJCS, including in custodial settings. Professional boundaries training is also delivered to new recruits and has been incorporated into local and central orientation provided to contractors. Staff are also provided with regular examples of professional boundary issues, including a reminder in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Corrections Victoria to examine ways to reduce the risk of long term relationships developing between staff and prisoners, such as implementing a policy of maximum tenure for correctional officers in accommodation units.
DJCS has considered additional measures to reduce the risk of long-term relationships between staff and prisoners and concluded that it will not be introducing a specific policy for maximum tenure in accommodation units in relation to this finding.
Corrections staff regularly move between accommodation units and prisoners also frequently transition out of the custodial environment. This mitigates the risk of long-term relationships developing between staff and prisoners.
However, Corrections Victoria does have a staff rotation policy for high security and management units, which was introduced following the death of Carl Williams at Barwon Prison in 2010.
Consideration be given to the development and implementation of random and targeted drug testing of corrections officers and other persons with regular access to prisoners.
DJCS recognises that the use or introduction of illicit substances by prison staff is unacceptable and represents a potential corruption risk. This conduct is currently governed by various acts, regulations and Commissioner’s requirement including the Corrections Act, Corrections Regulations 2019, CR 1.4.8 Conduct and Ethics, CR 1.2.3 Strip Searches in Prisons, and the VPS Code of Conduct (Demonstrating Integrity including specifically 3.11 Drugs and Alcohol).
DJCS has determined that random testing will initially be introduced for high-risk roles, such as Security and Emergency Services Group, Emergency Services Group and General Duties staff who are licenced to access firearms, and that more broadly staff will be subject to targeted testing.
This recommendation will take some time to implement due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on custodial settings. In August 2020, DJCS advised IBAC that the Corrections and Justice Services Group and People and Workplace Services area of DJCS are establishing a project team to lead this work.
Private prisons can already conduct drug testing of staff.
Corrections Victoria considers whether disciplinary or administrative action is appropriate in relation to the prison officer’s attempt to use their position to influence the transfer of a current prisoner.
DJCS noted that this would need to be acquitted by the private prison provider who employed the relevant officer. DJCS wrote to the private prison provider about this matter on 14 October 2016 and the private prison provider responded on 6 February 2017.
Following a review, the private prison provider found that while there were lessons to be learnt from the investigation to improve processes and procedures, it would not be taking any disciplinary action in relation to the prison officer.
On 13 February 2017, the (then) Commissioner of Corrections Victoria, wrote to the private prison provider stating that she was satisfied that the approach and conclusions made as part of their investigation were appropriate.
Corrections Victoria to work with private prison providers to promote consistent policy standards, particularly in relation to inappropriate associations, professional boundaries and conflicts of interest.
As outlined above, Corrections Victoria transitioned its existing 'Corrections Conduct and Ethics Policy' to a Commissioner's Requirement, which requires compliance by both public and private prisons. The Code of Conduct and other departmental policies also assist in managing inappropriate associations, professional boundaries and conflicts of interest.